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Race Director Laz Lake and... the Times Square Torso Killer

Photo submitted by Laz for the profile on him for UltraSignup

With someone like Laz, it’s rare you can add anything to the conversation. The iconic creator of brutal trail races and the innovative last-man-standing backyard ultras is a storehouse of information on everything under the sun. He's a student of life. He told me more about the geology of North Alabama where I grew up than any of my ancestors ever knew.

But while interviewing him for what would turn into the article Laz Lake's Math Problem for UltraSignup, he mentioned that he’d lived at the Quality Inn in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey for six months back in the ‘80s. I felt a perverse buzz well up in my chest. I have a twisted fascination with serial killers, and I asked him if he’d ever heard of the Times Square Torso Killer, the terror responsible for the deaths of 11 young women and who claimed to have killed 100. He hadn’t. I informed Laz that two of his victims were found murdered at that same Quality Inn in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and that Richard Cottingham, the Torso Killer, was arrested there attempting to off a third.

“They never told me about that,” he said.

Curiosity, it would seem, was not encouraged at the Quality Inn.

Laz Lake by artist Gordo Stevens

The Times Square Torso Killer also known as the Torso Ripper was named for two unidentified (at the time) bodies found in a motel on 42nd Street near 10th Avenue, an area referred to as Hell's Kitchen. They were both female sex workers and had been dismembered and decapitated on December 2, 1979, in the Travel Inn Motel. The room had been set on fire but not, according to authorities, with the intention of burning it down or destroying evidence but rather to bring attention to the atrocities he'd committed there. A recent documentary on Netflix titled The Times Square Killer, released on December 29, 2021, filled in many gaps in the story and trended on the top ten list for some time.

I decided, rightfully so, with some urging from my editor, not to include this tidbit in the article, but these bits of coincidence always stick with me. I had just seen that documentary when I interviewed Laz. Of all the places he's stayed and could have stayed in New Jersey? And how often do we name the motel we stayed at? Don't we usually just say, "I stayed in New Jersey for several months?"

I often find myself wondering about this interwoven world - how tied together things are even when life seems enormous, isolated, and alien. Do places have memory? Can people feel that? If so, only a certain, sensitive-minded kind? Or is it all just a crazy bowl of happenstance? Either way, it's intriguing as hell. No?

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